Viola, still in disguise as Cesario, has returned to Lady Olivia’s house to bring her another message of love from Orsino (the errand that Orsino sends Cesario on at the end of Act II, scene iv). Outside Olivia’s house, Cesario meets Feste, the clown. Feste jokes and makes puns with him. Cesario jokes with comparable skill and good-naturedly gives Feste some coins for his trouble. Feste goes inside to announce the arrival of Cesario to Olivia.
Sir Toby and Sir Andrew arrive in the garden and, meeting Cesario for the first time, make some rather awkward conversation with him. The situation is made awkward by the fact that Sir Andrew behaves foolishly, as usual, and both men are slightly drunk. Sir Toby invites Cesario into the house, but before they can enter, Olivia comes down to the garden, accompanied by Maria. She sends everyone else away in order to listen to what Cesario has to say.
Once alone with Cesario, Olivia suddenly begs him not to give her any more love messages from Orsino. She lets Cesario know how deeply in love with him she is. Cesario tells Olivia as politely as he can that he cannot love her. Olivia seems to accept this rejection, but she realizes privately that she cannot so easily get rid of her love for this beautiful young man, even if he scorns her. Cesario swears to Olivia that no woman shall ever be mistress of his heart and turns to go. But Olivia begs him to come back again, suggesting desperately that maybe Cesario can convince her to love Orsino after all.Read a translation of Act III, scene i →
Back in Olivia’s house, Sir Andrew tells Sir Toby that he has decided to leave. He says that he has seen Olivia fawning over Cesario in the orchard, and he seems to realize at last that Olivia is not likely to marry him. But Sir Toby—who wants to keep Andrew around because he has been spending Sir Andrew’s money—tells Sir Andrew that he ought to stay and show off his manliness for her. Fabian helps Sir Toby in his persuasion, assuring Sir Andrew that Olivia might only have been teasing him and trying to make him jealous. Sir Andrew agrees, and Sir Toby encourages him to challenge Cesario to a duel, in order to prove his love for Olivia.
Maria comes in and reports that Malvolio is behaving like an absolute ass—he has been doing everything that the letter has asked him to do. He is wearing yellow stockings and crossed garters and will not stop smiling—all in all, he is more ridiculous than ever before. Sir Toby and Fabian eagerly follow Maria to see what is going on.Read a translation of Act III, scene ii →
Elsewhere, in the streets of Illyria, we find that Sebastian and Antonio have at last arrived at their destination. We learn that Antonio is not safe in Illyria: it seems that Duke Orsino’s men are hostile to him, for many years ago Antonio was involved in a sea fight against Orsino in which he did them much damage. But Antonio’s love for Sebastian has caused him to defy the danger and come with Sebastian to Illyria.